Guatemala declares landslide-hit area to be uninhabitable

Neighbourhood hit by landslide in Guatemala declared uninhabitable by Guatemalan officials

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Rescue team members search the disaster area, in Santa Catarina Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City on October 6, 2015

Guatemalan officials declared on Tuesday that an area hit by a landslide which recently killed 171 people in Guatemala was uninhabitable.

Prosecutors in Guatemala said that they opened an investigation into who gave permission to build homes in the unsafe area. Secretary of Criminal Policy at Public Ministry Rotman Perez announced officials would search to find which officials gave authorisation for construction.

After heavy rain caused a massive landslide on Thursday at a neighbourhood in Santa Catarina Pinula in Guatemala, officials announced on Tuesday the number of deaths from the incident had reached at least 171. Hundreds victims are still missing.

"So far, 171 bodies have been recovered," from the tonnes of sodden earth that buried some 125 dwellings last week, said Sergio Cabanas, the official heading the search.

Rescue workers continued their search for missing people at dawn on Tuesday with the help of a Mexican team with trained dogs. They are still excavating the area but officials said hopes of finding survivors were lowring.

Almost 230 people are staying in shelters and it is not yet clear whether the state will relocate the survivors to safer areas.

On Monday, Guatemalan President Alejandro Maldonado declared three days of national mourning. He said, "We're not going to stop until we finish this job," and that he was determined to find all missing people buried under the mud.

However, Guatemala's National Disaster Reduction Commission (Conred) officials said the conditions at the area of the landslide worsened on Monday. They detected that water was seeping from the cracks in the hilltop. The officials warned of the risk of further landslides.

Conred said it had warned in 2009 that the area hit by the landslide on Thursday was at risk. The district was built at the bottom of a steep hillside beside a river. After that, Conred warned again in November 2014 that the river was eroding the base of the hill.

Experts had also warned in a report released last year that construction licenses should never have been granted for the neighbourhood. They had also recommended the families living in the area should be relocated, but no action has been taken.

Now authorities plan to start the process and force families living in high-risk zones to relocate.

Guatemala is known for its history of disastrous landslides. In 2005, torrential rains again led to a devastating landslide in the village of Panabaj, killing hundreds. Most of the bodies were never found.

TRTWorld and agencies